Billeder på siden

all over the continent. And these monasteries were not homes of mere monks, but centres of further missionary effort and of learning. As penmen and artists in particular the Celtic saints excelled, and up to the tenth century it was they that wrote the most exquisite prayerbooks, and were the best workers in leather, metal, and wood. No other people could chase copper and iron as they could, and for beauty of form and delicacy of interlacing pattern their stone crosses are unrivalled.

Yet the charge was unceasingly and unflinchingly urged against the British church by the contemporary popes and doctors of Rome, that its teaching was heretical and its baptism and orders null and void. And its abbots and missionaries in return were not slow to challenge the growing claims of the Bishop of Rome to supreme authority in the matter of rites and belief. Thus the history of the venerable Bede relates how in the year 597 of our era Augustine of Canterbury was sent by the Pope to convert the Angles (so far as these really needed conversion), and equally to amend the errors which deformed the older christianity of our islands.

It is probable that the paganism of the Angles at this time has been somewhat exaggerated, for when Augustine reached their country he found at least two Christian churches within a few miles of his landing-place, wherein public worship had never ceased and was still being conducted. He also found the wife of King Ethelbert a fervent Christian, and her husband a ready catechumen. We may fairly conclude that the religion had made considerable strides among the Angles before Augustine's advent, and that he can only be called their apostle by a pious courtesy. However this may be, he lost no time in asserting the Roman authority, armed with which he had come, over the old believers of the land, and, at the

instance of Ethelbert, seven of the bishops, along with several doctors of the neighbouring province of the Brettones, arranged to meet and confer with the newlyarrived emissary of Rome at a spot afterwards known as Augustine's oak, probably Aust on the Severn, opposite Chepstow. The British clergy came from their monastery of Bangor in Flint, and, according to Bede, had already debated among themselves the point whether or no they should desert their own traditions and accept the preaching of Augustine. Dinoot, their abbot, had given them some shrewd advice in regard to the matter: "Follow Augustine," he said, "if you find him to be a man of God." "And how shall we test him on this point?" they replied. "The Lord," answered Dinoot," said to us, take my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am gentle and meek of heart. If, then, this Augustine be gentle and meek of heart, it may be believed that he himself bears the yoke of Christ and offers it to you to bear. But if he be ungentle and proud, it is certain that he is not from God, nor must we then attend to what he says." But they asked in turn, "and how shall we be able to decide if this be so?" "Take care," answered their Abbot, "that Augustine with his retinue shall be the first to reach the place of conference. Then if he get up off his seat and rise to meet you when you approach him, you will know that he is a servant of Christ, and in that case you must respectfully give ear to what he says. If, on the contrary, he flouts you and refuses to rise from his seat to meet you, although you outnumber his party, then let him in turn be flouted by you."

Then Bede narrates how they did as their Abbot advised, and it turned out that when they came up

1 See Plummer's Bede, ii, 76.

Augustine did not stir, but remained seated in his chair. Seeing which they were soon turned to anger, and being convinced of his pride, they tried to contradict all he said. And what he said to them was this: "You do certainly proceed in many ways contrarily to our customs, or rather to those of the entire church. Still if you are willing to obey me on the three following points, namely: If you will keep Easter in its proper season; if you will perform the rite of baptism, whereby we are re-born unto God, according to the manner of the holy Roman and Apostolic Church; lastly, if you will join with us in preaching the Word of God to the race of the Angli, then we will tolerate and overlook all your other practices, although they are contrary to our customs."

Bede, who has left us this picture of the Synod at Augustine's oak, was a sincere adherent of the Papal party in these islands. Therefore we may rely upon its fidelity, as we could not do had it been drawn by an enemy. Yet Augustine, as pourtrayed in it, is not a very conciliatory person.

And the impression formed in our minds from the beginning of Bede's narrative of this conference is deepened, if we read it to the end. "The other party," he says, "replied to Augustine that they would not do any of these things, nor would they have him as their archbishop. And they conferred among themselves and said: Since he refused even to get up from his seat to meet us, how much more will he flout us if we once begin to give way to him?" "And then," continues Bede, "Augustine is said to have threatened them, and to have foretold that if they refused to accept peace as with brethren, they should have war as from enemies; and if they refused to preach the way of life to the Angli, then by the hands of these same Angli they should suffer vengeance."

Many historians, otherwise favourably disposed, have expressed their regret at the attitude thus taken up by Augustine towards the older Christianity of these islands so soon as he found himself confronted by it. It is hardly our ideal of peace with brethren. The Celtic races, moreover, whatever their faults, are at least gifted with a natural grace of courtesy, which in itself must have rendered Augustine's rudeness strange to them. But the British bishops must have been doubly shocked when this soi-disant apostle passed from mere ill-breeding to threats of violence, as soon as ever they discovered their inability to bow down before him and admits his pretensions to authority.

It is characteristic of Bede that he is ever most reticent about the errors of the early British church. Its observance of Easter is the only such point which he condescends to notice in any detail. And this exception is intelligible, for the difference of date involved the great practical inconvenience that one party would be fasting and in sorrow, while the other would be making merry and feasting the risen Christ. Bede's reticence about his ecclesiastical opponents even goes to this length, that he studiously ignores throughout his history St. Patrick, the great Irish missionary, whose name he never once allows himself to utter. In the same spirit of reticence he never once deigns to inform his readers of what was wrong with the Celtic or British baptism. And it is the chief aim of this paper to try to ascertain what the defect in the early British baptism was, to which the older church was so resolved to cling. On this point Messrs. Haddan and Stubbs, in their Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, write as follows, vol. i, p. 153: The precise defect intended is left to conjecture. Single immersion seems most probable."

But Mr. Plummer, in his recent edition of Bede's History, vol. ii, p. 75, justly points out that this cannot have been the case; because the very Pope Gregory who dispatched Augustine to Britain had no preference for trine over single immersion, supposing the latter was the custom of any given country. Nor is it likely to have been the omission at Baptism of chrism and confirmation, both of which the Irish church maintained, if the epistle of St. Patrick, ad Coroticum, 497 A.D., is to be held genuine. And even if it is not, we shall see from evidence to be presently adduced that this was not a cardinal defect which invalidated baptism in the eyes of the Popes in the eighth century, and is, therefore, not likely to have invalidated it in the seventh. This much is certain, that from the Roman point of view the Britons had no baptism at all, and, therefore, no priesthood and no sacraments. For I cannot agree with Messrs. Haddan and Stubbs' that except on this one occasion, by St. Augustine, no stress was laid upon any question respecting baptism in the British controversy. Surely it was enough for the first founder of Bede's Church in England to have once for all rejected the British baptism? It lay at the root of the dispute, and the condemnation once solemnly pronounced by Augustine did not need to be constantly repeated. When, however, Egbert denies, with emphasis, that there was any baptism among the Angli until Augustine came to England, it is probable that he glances at the invalidity of the British rite. For it is inconceivable that the British saints refused to evangelise the Angles and to baptise them. They were the most enthusiastic missionaries that the world has ever seen, and they risked all perils of land and sea, in order to evangelise the same race in its old

1 Vol. i,

p. 154.


Archbishop of York, 732-767 a.d.

« ForrigeFortsæt »